Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Blurb and Us

The museum experience, irrespective of the museum itself, is a very interesting experience. It reveals to us nuances of our own personalities and can be a good gauge of our patience and thirst for knowledge. Our interaction with the blurb (i.e. the three sentence description that “explains” the thought behind the work) is particularly revealing. When we approach a piece of art at a museum, depending on our personality and level of interest, we do one of three things. 1) We quickly look at the work, turn to the person next to us, say “this is cool/interesting,” and then move on without reading the blurb. 2) We look at the artwork, think about it for a moment, come up with our own interpretation, and then read the blurb to compare our interpretation to that of the artist and/or critic. Or 3) We read the blurb first, briefly glance at the piece of art, and then walk away feeling satisfied that our “independent” interpretation sufficiently matches the interpretation of the expert.

Even the most interested and thoughtful of museum-goers has experienced being a #3 at some point, so no judgment if you are one, but this leads me to question a few things. First, who is writing the blurb? If it is not the artist (99 times out of 100, it’s not), did the writer even question the artist in the first place or are they just passing their own interpretation as the vision of the artist? And who made them powerful enough to influence the thoughts and dampen the creative interpretations of all the #3’s out there? Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of the blurb. It is generally essential for me to get anything out of most exhibits. They provide food for thought and can often be conversation starters for intellectual debates. But the subjective nature of many of them and the creative liberties that are often taken with them can create a homogenous group think that runs contrary to what art is all about. One man’s vision should never be presented as immutable fact. And more importantly, because we cannot control how it is presented, we should never be passive enough to accept it as such. Andy Warhol said “Art is anything you can get away with.” I agree, but sometimes, we make it too easy to get away with.

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